Sarkozy under formal investigation for ‘criminal association’ in Libya’s funding scandal

French prosecutors put former President Nicolas Sarkozy under formal investigation for “criminal association” on Friday in connection with accusations that he accepted campaign support from former Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

Prosecutors are investigating allegations that former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi secretly gave Sarkozy 50 million euros for his initial presidential campaign in 2007. The allegations were first made by one of the late dictator’s sons, Saif al-Islam, in 2011.

The new allegations of membership in a criminal conspiracy add to charges in 2018 of “passive corruption”, “taking advantage of embezzled public funds” and “illegal campaign funding”.

Being put under “formal investigation” in France indicates that judges have found sufficient evidence of misconduct so that the investigation can proceed, possibly to trial.

The case gained increased control in November 2016, when French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine said he delivered three suitcases filled with Libyan cash to Sarkozy’s former chief of staff and campaign director, Claude Guéant, between 2006 and 2007.

In January, British police detained French businessman Alexandre Djouhri at Heathrow Airport as part of the lengthy investigation into the alleged Libyan financing. A spokesman for London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed that Djouhri’s arrest was carried out “under a European arrest warrant” for fraud and money laundering.

Sarkozy has always denied the allegations. In response to the latest allegations on his Facebook page, Sarkozy said he was “stunned” by the latest allegations and called them the last step “in a long line of injustices”

The former president had a complex relationship with Gaddafi. Shortly after his election to the presidency, he controversially invited the Libyan leader to Paris for a state visit and welcomed him with great honor. But Sarkozy then put France at the forefront of NATO-led airstrikes against Gaddafi’s troops, which helped a slur of rebel fighters overthrow his regime in 2011.

The Libyan investigation is just one of several legal probes that have been touting the former head of state since he left power. In 2018, Sarkozy lost an appeal against the decision to send him to court over allegations of illegal campaign funding in a case known as “Bygmalion Affair”.

The scandal is about allegations that Sarkozy’s party, then known as the UMP (now called Les Républicains), teamed up with a friendly PR company to hide the true cost of his 2012 presidential election campaign.

France sets campaign spending limits and it is alleged that Bygmalion billed Sarkozy’s party instead of the campaign, allowing the UMP to spend almost double the allowable amount. The party is alleged to have asked the communications agency to produce fake invoices to cover large overspending during the failed campaign in 2012.

( Jowhar with AFP, REUTERS)

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